Thursday, 23 August 2012

The most scenic ultra race in Canada...

19 August has loomed huge on the horizon ever since I clicked 'confirm' on my race entry form for the 30 mile portion of 'the most scenic ultra race in Canada'.  An ultra race is technically anything further than a marathon.  So, if I completed it, I would become part of a growing group of people who love running long distances, normally in the mountains. Pretty much the same group of people I had dismissed as insane when I discovered they even existed last year.

One of the climbs (this one I did remember)
My training went well, really well, for about five months: long runs at weekends on increasingly hilly and technical terrain; speed and hill workouts; and two 25km races on the local North Shore mountains.  Then one of the inevitable endurance injuries set in, Achilles tendonitis and I had to back off training.  Four weeks pre-race, my long run (which still wasn't really long enough) damaged my tibial tendon, which ruled out more more running.  Adding insult (well, I guess injury) to injury, a cycle ride to keep up my endurance pulled out a rib with 7 days to go.

So, many hundreds of dollars on physio later, I was at the start line.  Mark, as always supportive and encouraging, had given me my final pep talk, with varying degrees of accuracy:



  • "you're the fittest you've ever been" - this much was true;
  • "you know the course backwards" - we had hiked it the month before but I'd conveniently forgotten key elements like there being 7, not 4, brutal climbs; and
  • "if you start, you'll finish" - well, this was kind of true, you crossed one road 10 miles in and, if you didn't turn back then it was finish or wait for mountain rescue...

Enough warm-up, what happened in the race?:
The ridge section (on a recce run)



  • Adrenaline is a magical substance.  I didn't notice my existing injuries and wasn't in much pain until mile 22 when both knees went on strike. For the final 8 miles, I mastered a stiff legged, arm pumping jog which was surprisingly effective.
  • Closest I've been to a cougar/mountain lion - at aid station #1 they (accidentally) told me one had been sighted on the trail I'd just run (as well as two surprised bears).  "Lucky it isn't ahead of me" I thought.  Took me 2 hours to remember that cougars don't respect race leg boundaries and start worrying about every twig snapping.
  • I felt incredibly nauseous for about 2.5 hours climbing 1700m.  Meant I couldny eat which slowed me down, but just made the pringles at the 2nd/last aid station even better.
  • I performed really quite effective first aid on cuts sustained in a fall, simultaneously providing much needed food aid to passing moquitoes, and didn't beat myself up too much about losing my sunglasses.
  • I took an extended nature bathroom break. Traumatic. Mosquito ridden. 'Nuff said.
  • I was blown away by the views, the first brutal climb topped out on a magnificent ridge line with the snowy peaks of the Northern Cascade range on one side and acres of alpine meadows on the other. Sufficient encouragement to keep running.
  • And, what surprised me most was my totally positive attitude for the whole day.  I saw only three runners, plus aid station volunteers, all day, but I entertained myself with odes to compression socks, the mountains, pringles and a very un-British sense of pride in my achievement.  I had a few tears, but mainly when I thought about the support I'd had from Mark, family, friends and my trail running club.  I only had to give myyself one serious 'marshall your resources' talking to (sometimes my surname is pretty useful).
I was out 10 hours and 15 minutes in the end.  I had wanted to finish under 10 but considering the heat I was pleased to end it running with only a minor limp. I learnt some valuable lessons I'll take forward to future races, took home an abiding love for aid station volunteer heroes and finished with my first Canadian ultra race medal (hopefully not my last, but no plans as yet to enter the 120mile version next year).
Chips are an essential recovery tool

Still in considerable pain as I write this 3 days on (my tibial tendon hasn't quite forgiven me) but immensely satisfied.  We leave Friday for our 3 week Western US States road trip.  I'm off to buy physio tape and walking poles for our descent into the Grand Canyon...

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